Tag: Firm performance

The Real Effects of Share Repurchases

Mathias Kronlund is Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Kronlund; Heitor Almeida, Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Vyacheslav Fos, Assistant Professor of Finance at Boston College.

Companies face intense pressure from activist shareholders, institutional investors, the government, and the media to put their cash to good use. Existing evidence suggests that share repurchases are a good way for companies to return cash to investors, since cash-rich companies tend to generate large abnormal returns when announcing new repurchase programs. However, some observers argue that the cash that is spent on repurchase programs should instead be used to increase research and employment, and that the recent increase in share repurchases is undermining the recovery from the recent recession and hurting the economy’s long-term prospects. Repurchases have also been cited as an explanation for why the increase in corporate profitability in the years after the recession has not resulted in higher growth in employment, and overall economic prosperity.


Economic Downsides and Antitrust Liability Risks from Horizontal Shareholding

Einer Elhauge is the Petrie Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. This post is based on Professor Elhauge’s recent article, forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review.

In recent decades, institutional investors have grown and become more active in influencing corporate management. While this development has often been viewed as salutary from a corporate governance perspective, the implications for product market competition have become deeply troubling. As I show in a new article called Horizontal Shareholding (forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review), this growth in institutional investors means that a small group of institutions has acquired large shareholdings in horizontal competitors throughout our economy, causing them to compete less vigorously with each other.


Trends in S&P 500 CEO Compensation

Aubrey E. Bout is a Partner in the Boston office of Pay Governance LLP. This post is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Mr. Bout, Brian Wilby, and Steve Friedman.

Executive pay continues to be a hotly debated topic in the boardroom among investors and proxy advisors, and it routinely makes headlines in the media. As the U.S. was in the heart of the financial crisis in 2008-2009, CEO total direct compensation (TDC = base salary + actual bonus paid + grant value of long-term incentives) dropped for two consecutive years. As the U.S. stock market sharply rebounded and economy stabilized and started to slowly grow again, CEO TDC also rebounded. Large pay increases occurred in 2010 and they were primarily in the form of larger LTI grants. Since then, year-over-year increases have been fairly moderate—in the 3% to 6% range. While CEO pay increases have been higher than seen for the average employee population, they are well aligned with company stock price performance.


Dividends as Reference Points

Malcolm Baker is Professor of Finance at Harvard Business School. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Baker; Brock Mendel of Harvard University; and Jeffrey Wurgler, Professor of Finance at New York University.

In our paper, Dividends as Reference Points: A Behavioral Signaling Model, which is forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we use loss aversion, a feature of the prospect theory value function of Kahneman and Tversky (1979), to motivate a behavioral signaling model. A loss-averse value function has a kink at the reference point whereby marginal utility is discontinuously higher in the domain of losses. Loss aversion is supported by a considerable literature in psychology, finance and economics, as we briefly review later.



Martijn Cremers is Professor of Finance at the University of Notre Dame; Erasmo Giambona is Associate Professor of Finance and Real Estate at the University of Amsterdam; Simone M. Sepe is Professor of Law and Finance at the College of Law at the University of Arizona; and Ye Wang is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Finance at Bocconi University. This post responds to a post, titled The Long-term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism: A Reply to Cremers, Giambona, Sepe, and Wang, by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Wei Jiang, and Thomas Keusch (available on the Forum here). The post by Professors Bebchuk, Brav, Jiang and Keusch replied to the criticism of the study on The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here) that was put forward in a paper by Cremers, Giambona, Sepe and Wang discussed in this post.

In a December 10, 2015 post to the Harvard Corporate Governance Blog, Professors Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Wei Jiang, and Thomas Keusch (“BBJK”) suggest that a study the four of us have recently coauthored, Hedge Fund Activism and Long-Term Firm Value (the “CGSW study”), “overlooks prior opposing evidence on the subject, offers a flawed empirical analysis, and makes [contradictory] claims.” For these reasons—BBJK unequivocally conclude—the CGSW study’s claims “should be given no weight in the ongoing examination of hedge fund activism.” We are thankful to BBJK for the time spent analyzing our work and the occasion they have provided us to offer a few clarifications. Hopefully, those clarifications will add clarity to our attempt at better understanding the effects of hedge fund activism, which is what, ultimately, we should all care about.

The Long-term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism: A Reply to Cremers, Giambona, Sepe, and Wang

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School; Alon Brav is Professor of Finance at Duke University; Wei Jiang is Professor of Finance at Columbia Business School; and Thomas Keusch is Assistant Professor at the Erasmus University School of Economics. This post relates to a recent article, Hedge Find Activism and Long-Term Firm Value, by Cremers, Giambona, Sepe, and Wang, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN. This post is related to the study on The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here).

This post replies to a study by Cremers, Giambona, Sepe, and Wang (“the CGSW Study”), Hedge Find Activism and Long-Term Firm Value. The CGSW study, which has recently been publicly released on SSRN and simultaneously announced in a Wachtell Lipton memorandum, aims at contesting existing evidence on the long-term effects of hedge fund activism. As we explain below, the paper overlooks prior opposing evidence on the subject, offers a flawed empirical analysis, and makes claims that are contradicted by its own reported evidence. Furthermore, the paper’s conclusions are inconsistent not just with our work, but with a large body of empirical studies by numerous researchers. CGSW’s claims, we show, should be given no weight in the ongoing examination of hedge fund activism.

In a paper titled The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism, (“the LT Effects Study”), three of us tested empirically the “myopic activism claim” that has long been invoked by opponents of shareholder activism. According to this claim, hedge fund activism produces short-term benefits at the expense of long-term value. The LT Effects Study shows that the myopic activist claim is not supported by the data on targets’ Tobin’s Q, ROA, or long-term stock returns during the five years following the activist intervention.

CGSW focus on one part of the results of the LT Effects Study—those concerning Q (financial economists’ standard metric of firm valuation). Accepting that industry-adjusted Tobin’s Q improves in the years following activist interventions, CGSW assert that what has been missing is a comparison of how activist targets perform relative to a matched sample of similarly underperforming firms. CGSW claim that their matched sample analysis shows that the Q of activist targets improves less in the years following the intervention than the Q of matched control firms and that activism therefore decreases, rather than increases long-term value. Although CGSW do not look at stock returns, their conclusions imply that the announcement of an activist intervention represents “bad news” for investors that should be expected to be accompanied immediately or ultimately by negative stock returns for the shareholders of target companies.

Below we in turn comment on:

(i) Our obtaining different results than those reported by CGSW when applying CGSW’s empirical methodology to the same data;

(ii) The inconsistency of CGSW’s claims with some of their own reported results;

(iii) CGSW’s puzzling “discovery” of a well-known selection effect;

(iv) CGSW’s failure to engage with prior work conducting matched sample analysis and reaching opposite conclusions;

(v) CGSW’s flawed empirical methodology;

(vi) The inconsistency of CGSW’s conclusions with the large body of evidence on stock returns accompanying activist interventions; and

(vii) CGSW’s implausible claim that activist interventions have destroyed over 50% of the value of “innovative” target firms.

Although CGSW direct their fire at the Long-Term Effects Study, the discussion below explains that their conclusions are inconsistent not just with this study but with a large number of empirical studies by numerous researchers, including the many studies cited below.

CGSW’s Data and Results

The CGSW paper is based on a dataset of activist interventions that two of us collected and that the LT Effects Study used. Although we are still working with the data to produce additional papers, we agreed to provide the authors with our data to facilitate research in this area. To our surprise, the authors did not provide us an opportunity to comment on their paper before making their paper public, and we first learnt about the paper from Wachtell Lipton’s memorandum announcing it.

Although we view the empirical procedure used by CGSW as flawed, we have attempted to replicate their results using our data (which CGSW used), following the procedure described in their paper and making standard choices for elements of the procedure that the paper does not fully specify. Doing so, we have obtained results that are very different from those of CGSW.

We asked the authors to provide us with the list of the matched sample companies used in their tests. Even though their paper is based on data we shared with them, CGSW declined to provide us with the requested list and stated that they would not do so prior to the publication of their paper in a journal (which might be many months away).

Claims Inconsistent with CGSW’s Own Results

CGSW claim that their matched sample analysis shows that “firms targeted by activist hedge funds improve less in value … than similarly poorly performing firms that are not subject to hedge fund activism.” However, the patterns displayed in the authors’ key Figure 1 do not support this central claim.

This Figure 1, which we reproduce below, reports industry-adjusted Tobin’s Q for firms targeted by hedge funds (blue graph) and industry-adjusted Tobin’s Q for the matched control firms (paired with the target firms by CGSW) during the years before and after the year at which target firms became a target.

Although the authors state that the Figure “confirms” their conclusions, it does not appear to do so. The Figure vividly shows that targets’ valuation increases more sharply than that of matched control firms that are not subject to hedge fund activism during the years following time t (denoting the end of the intervention year).

CGSW might argue that, although target valuation increases more sharply relative to matched control firms from time t (the end of the intervention year) forward, the activist intervention is responsible for the short-term decrease in value relative to control firms that targets experience from time t-1 (the beginning of the year of the intervention) to time t (the end of the year of the intervention). However, this short-term decrease is likely to at least partly precede the intervention and thus be a potential cause rather than a product of it. Furthermore, while opponents of hedge fund activism have been seeking to ground their opposition in claims regarding long-term effects, we are unaware of any claims by such opponents that such activism decreases value in the short term, and the well-documented stock market gains accompanying announcements of activist interventions would make such a claim implausible.

Indeed, CGSW themselves explain that the view that is empirically supported by their paper is that hedge fund interventions pressure management to produce short-term gains that come “at the potential expense of long-term performance.” This view implies a short-term increase in valuation followed by a decline in valuation during the years following the intervention year. The clear improvement in target valuation (relative to control firms) from time t forward displayed in Figure 1 thus contradicts CGSW’s claims and conclusions.

Tobin’s Q around the start of activist hedge fund campaigns (sample of all hedge funds campaigns)


Source: Cremers et al., November 2015, page 44.

Although the inconsistency of CGSW’s claims with their own Figure 1 is worth noting in assessing CGSW’s paper, we should stress that, due to the methodological problems noted below, we otherwise do not attach weight to the authors’ results, including those in Figure 1.


Executive Optimism, Option Exercise, and Share Retention

Robert Tumarkin is Senior Lecturer of Finance at the University of New South Wales. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Tumarkin and Rik Sen, Assistant Professor of Finance at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Optimism shows up as a pervasive bias in experimental and real-life settings. In the business world, executive optimism is believed to influence a wide range of corporate decisions and policies. However, determining whether an executive is optimistic is not straightforward. Corporate communications featuring key executives can be heavily rehearsed, with words carefully chosen to hide any biases. Interviews with executives may reveal the biases of journalists more than that of the executives.

In our paper, Stocking Up: Executive Optimism, Option Exercise, and Share Retention, recently featured in the Journal of Financial Economics, we propose a robust empirical measure of executive optimism. This measure, which we call Share retainer, is based on observing an executive’s stock transactions that coincide with option exercise. It is motivated by our examination of the optimal option exercise and portfolio choice problem of an optimistic executive who faces a short-sale constraint on company stock.

The Product Market Effects of Hedge Fund Activism

Praveen Kumar is Professor of Finance at the University of Houston. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Kumar and Hadiye Aslan, Assistant Professor of Finance at Georgia State University, available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here), The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here), The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here), and Pre-Disclosure Accumulations by Activist Investors: Evidence and Policy by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Robert J. Jackson Jr., and Wei Jiang.

Whether intervention by activist investors, such as hedge funds, is beneficial or detrimental to the shareholders of target firms remains controversial. Proponents marshal considerable empirical evidence that hedge fund activism (HFA) is associated with significant medium-to-long-run improvements in targets’ cost and investment efficiency, profitability, productivity, and shareholder returns. Opponents, however, insist that HFA forces management to take myopic decisions that weaken firms in the longer run. The debate rages in academia, media, and has already featured in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Despite this intense interest, however, the research on the effects HFA has typically focused only on its impact on the performance of target firms. But targets of HFA do not exist in vacuum; they have industry competitors, suppliers, and customers. It is by now well known that HFA has a broad scope that often—simultaneously or sequentially—touches on virtually every major aspect of company management, including changes in product market strategy, negotiation tactics with suppliers and customers, and knowledge-based technical advice of production organization. In particular, HFA that improves target’s cost efficiency and product differentiation, and generally redesigns its competitive strategy, should have a significant impact on the target’s competitors (or rival firms). This prediction follows from basic principles of strategic interaction among firms in oligopolistic interaction. Indeed, the received theory of industrial organization provides the effects of cost improvements and product differentiation on rivals’ equilibrium profits and market shares.


Big Data and Analytics in the Audit Process

Ruby Sharma is a principal at the EY Center for Board Matters. The following post is based on a report from the EY Center for Board Matters, available here.

In today’s business environment characterized by constant disruption, slow growth and uncertainty, boards face more challenges than ever in creating a risk-aware corporate culture and establishing sound risk governance and controls.

In just the last few years, the terms “big data” and “analytics” have become hot topics in company boardrooms around the world.

For many, embracing big data and analytics is crucial to keeping their organization nimble, competitive and profitable. Board members need to understand the complexities and have a grasp of the issues surrounding these technology trends. Equally important, they should be prepared to ask the right questions of the executives in charge of big data and analytics initiatives.

The Limits of Using TSR as an Incentive Measure

David N. Swinford is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Pearl Meyer & Partners, LLC. This post relates to research conducted by Pearl Meyer and the Cornell University ILR School’s Institute for Compensation Studies.

The widespread and growing use of total shareholder return (TSR) as an incentive measure is not the panacea many believe it to be. To test our point of view we wanted to explore one critical question: Does the inclusion of TSR measures in long-term incentive plans result in improved firm performance?

To find out the answer, Pearl Meyer collaborated with the Cornell University ILR School’s Institute for Compensation Studies to conduct original research on the use of TSR by S&P 500 companies over a ten year period.